Ethnomedical Approach

I think the Ethnomedical approach will be helpful to use and to understand because it tries to understand illness in addition to offering ways to seek treatment. I think the importance of understanding illness is to be able to alleviate the symptoms. And the Ethnomedical approach looks at explanatory models of health to understand the illness, health seeking behaviors to determine the best way to dispense the treatment and it compares health systems so the best treatment can be administered.

Disease is a physiological abnormality whereas illness is a persons experiences and feelings, shaped by their social and cultural environments, towards the pathological changes in their body. Disease is biological and illness is cultural. I thought an illness was another word for disease, a state of being unhealthy, however, the distinction was obvious to me after the lecture and the example of illness without disease and disease without illness was given.

The culture Miner is talking about in “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” is the North American people. The first thing that about this “tribe” that led me to believe it was Americans was “they are a North American group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico.” Additionally, “their nation was originated by a culture hero, Notgnishaw, who is otherwise known for […] chopping down of a cherry tree” is the second piece of information that made me believe the “Nacirema” was in fact about the American culture. In popular American culture there is a famous story about the first president of the United States of America, George Washington, who cut down a cherry tree.” After realizing “Notgnishaw” was “Washington spelled backwards and I reread the title I recognized that “Nacirema” was “American” spelled backward.

The fundamental belief of the Nacirema is that the human body is ugly and they are a society that isn’t receptive towards the unbeautiful. Having a thin body is regarded as the essence of beauty and is valued in this culture. This is supplemented by the ritual fasts to make fat people thin as described in the Nacirema article. People who don’t fit this very thin archetype feel pressured to alter their behavior to reach this ideal body image by lessening their consumption of food to reach this ideal.

Another ritual is the ritual of the mouth or the Nacirema brushing their teeth. The Nacirema believe the mouth “to have a supernatural influence on all social relationships”. The Nacirema believe that without this ritual they will begin to experience oral health problems such as teeth loss and bleeding gums. Additionally, the ideology that without this mouth-rite friends desert you and lovers reject you suggests that the Nacirema highly value appearance of others.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Morgan Barnett says:

    Since this article was written 50 years ago, I believe that Milner is alluding to the dentist when he speaks of the holy mouth man. However, because he left one end of the metaphor open to interpretation, he created elasticity in his piece that allows readers today to make connections relating the Nacirema culture to the American culture today. When this piece was written Milner alluded to the dentist that performed oral surgeries. I am thinking of simple surgeries like pulling rotten teeth and treating cavities—practical things that have the potential to enhance an appearance. The role of the dentist in today’s society has expanded to include treatments such as teeth whitening to improve outward appearance. The orthodontist has also evolved as a profession. When braces are needed to straighten teeth, people see the orthodontist for braces, which are expensive and painful. Many people in society today would go through the pain for social acceptance and because that has become the “norm,” whereas 50 years ago, members of society might not have spent as much time and money on a treatment like braces. I would even go on to say that the professionals that perform facial enhancement surgeries (i.e. plastic surgeries) parallel the holy mouth man.

  2. Jaana Ashtiani says:

    I also agree with Morgan and Haley regarding the Nacirema culture and the representations of certain current day American customs that were portrayed as “barbaric traits” of this culture. The 2 rituals that Haley chose were in fact the same two that I chose myself, although I do have to admit that I did not realize the full extent to which the article represented OUR culture in North America. For example, I definitely did not catch on to the backwards spellings of “washington” and “american” as Haley mentioned, which I feel somewhat silly for not seeing -_-. The ritual of idolizing females with perfect breasts is an EXACT representation of how we treat our models and celebrities today. We idolize their bodies and beauty, and proceed to ostracize anyone who lacks such “perfection.” As for the rituals of the mouth, although seemingly barbaric they are almost an exact representation of the dentist, or “holy-mouth-man,” we visit today to get root canals, or “holes,” drilled into our teeth. The hogs hair in fact is just an early day tooth brush. However the author definitely portrayed it in such a way to allow our minds to wander and visit the possibilities before settling upon the real conclusion. Therefore I think it’s rather ironic and somewhat humorous that we all gasped at the barbarity and savageness of this culture, yet it was our early culture the whole time.

  3. Mutaz Juma says:

    I agree with you that Old age is not considered an illness because everybody goes through the stage of late adulthood. During this stage (mid-sixties and after), older adults tend to reflect on their lives. It is the stage where some older adults find themselves happy and satisfied with their life choices, or they find themselves filled with despair over missed opportunities or mistakes that they have made during their lives. However, the cultural views of aging is different from one culture to another. For instance, the view of aging is often regarded as negative in the American society, where nuclear families are the norm. Young adults enjoy the greatest status and the elderly are more often rejected in the American society. As a result, older adults might feel despaired and regretful about their past and have a fear of aging. In contrast, the South American people view older adults as the wise and knowledgeable members of the society in which intergenerational families are the norm. As a result, older adults look forward for aging rather than attempting to push back the aging process and appear young.

    McGreal, Cathleen. “Socialization.” In Lifespan Development Across Cultures. Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014. .

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